Can cosplay be a job?
A few weeks ago I went to a gaming culture event, which also hosted an international cosplay competition finals. It made me curious: cosplay can’t be a full-time job, can it? It’s a bit unrealistic to expect to win money in every contest, isn’t it? And the costumes must be costly to make!
After some research, I found out a few interesting details about being a cosplayer. I admit having a preconception that cosplayers are hobbyists engrossed into some fictional universe. This is not necessarily true. In fact, professional cosplay is more about artistic expression and costume-making skills, rather than character impersonation. Although, people choose characters they know and like.
So how does this expensive ‘hobby’ justify the costs? Can it be a full-time job? Yes, it can. And here are a few common ways cosplayers earn money for their craft.
There are many local, semi-international and global cosplay competitions, in which people can compete. Most contests are for ‘amateur’ cosplayers, which means professional cosplayers are not allowed to compete. You are qualified as professional when you make a certain percentage of your income cosplaying.
Some competitions have money prizes, some offer the winners exclusive rewards, such as a role in a game, a movie, etc. The non-money prizes can be more valuable, but they are rare. Generally, it’s hard to sustain yourself from competitions only, since winning is not simple and prize funds are not what they used to be.
So what are the rules? Competition organisers always require a certain percentage of your costume to be made by you. For example, ComicCon cosplay contest requires at least 60% of the outfit to be made by you. Other rules prohibit nudity, foul language, uses of projectiles and sharp objects, expression of religious and political beliefs, and regulate use of weapons.
During the catwalk, each contestant will have time to show off their costume, their acting/choreography skills and answer the judges’ questions. Depending on the grading system of a particular contest, you may have to excel at all three or earn the highest cumulative rating.
Appearances and booth hosting
To supplement their income, professional cosplayers can work as booth hosts. Their job is to welcome and entertain guests at game, movie, comic book booths at conventions and expos. They dress as characters from the franchises and give guests information, take pictures with them, promote products. Booth owners usually cover accommodation and travel and pay daily salary.
The main function of booth host (sometimes called booth babes) is to entertain visitors and promote the products in the booth. It is not an easy job. You have to stand the whole day on your feet (except for a lunch break), so comfortable footwear is vital. Entertaining enormous crowds for ten and more hours is exhausting, even for the most outgoing people. If you are a woman, there might be inappropriate touches from male visitors, especially if the costume is very revealing. Hosting a booth does require serious stamina and thick skin. Good acting skills will help you bring in more visitors, which is always beneficial for the booth owners.
Alternatively, conventions can pay you for appearances. It may be more exhausting to work in a crowd at a major convention, due to the number of people who want to take a picture or talk to you. Conventions usually pay you a salary and don’t cover your living or travel costs.
How much cosplayers earn varies from event to event, from company to company. Booth babes tend to be paid more than appearances at conventions. According to various sources (this, this, and this), the salary per convention can be from three two to four digits. Some professional cosplayers charge to take pictures with them, which will increase the total income per convention.
Famous professional cosplayers get invited to conventions, events, and booths to cosplay. Beginner cosplayers should follow companies and upcoming events and send their portfolios, offering their cosplay services.
Some companies and advertising agencies hire cosplayers for their marketing campaigns, to model in photo shoots, sometimes to act in a video advertisement. Cosplay artists make costumes for models: from taking measurements to helping the model fit into the costume. Other cosplayers are hired to model themselves.
It’s hard to find these gigs, but not entirely impossible. Big internet following and fame, and previous successful gigs increase your chances to be approached by a company for a photoshoot (as well as getting any other gigs).
There’s not much public data on how much cosplayers can make from modelling. While there’s no bar, cosplayers make around the same a fashion model with similar experience makes. If you are making a costume for a model, you are paid for the materials in advance, and for the finished costume, which depends on the complexity, details, and time spent.
Alternatively, you can make photoshoots yourself with your costumes, and sell your prints to your followers, at conventions, in an online shop, and elsewhere. All professional cosplayers have an internet following, be it on Youtube, Instagram, or other platforms, to which they can sell the prints. Top tier cosplayers charge up to €50 per high-quality print, but there is no price ceiling; experiment with your pricing.
There is some controversy about modelling and selling your prints, as many cosplayers consider it dirty. Many costumes are too revealing; hence such prints are considered smut. Don’t get into trouble.
Hosting events and speaking
Another way cosplayers can make money is by hosting events. Panel/event hosts present speakers during conferences and events, moderate panels, judge cosplay contests, and so forth. Their job is the same as master of ceremonies’ job, except they have to wear a thematic costume.
Some cosplayers are invited to events to give talks and presentations about cosplay and related topics. All these appearances are compensated. Travel and accommodation costs are usually covered, as well.
How much you make depends on the organisers and their budget. The rule of thumb is not to go below an hourly rate of a McDonald’s employee.
Lastly, another popular way cosplayers can earn money is by making costumes and props to order. Avid fans of games, anime, movies sometimes order bespoke props or costumes. Your customers cover the cost of materials and pay for your work.
Your price point depends entirely on your skill, customer’s requirements, and your financial needs. There are no rules, and the concept of market prices should be retired. Some costumes/props take weeks of meticulous work to make, and needless to say, they will cost a pretty penny. Consider how much the materials would cost you, and add that to your estimated work fee. Make sure to take the payment for materials up front.
Many professional cosplayers have day jobs and cosplay as a hobby, making some additional income. Nevertheless, there are many ways you can become an expert cosplayer to make a comfortable living, whether through your appearances or making costumes and props for other people.